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Sara Petrosyan

There is much less risk of blindness among premature newborns

Two years ago the Center of Excellence for the Prevention of Childhood Blindness (CEPCB) was established in Yerevan. Dr. Chien Wong - one of the main mentors of the CEPCB’s medical staff – asserts that the achievements of the Armenian ophthalmologists working in the Center are desirable for many developed countries in the world.

“Premature babies are experiencing problems potentially leading them to blindness. Previously, there has not been such an issue since the mortality rate among extremely premature babies was very high. Now, when they live thanks to the development of neonatal services, there is a need to give them proper ophthalmic care.” This is how Nune Yeghiazaryan, Country Director of the Armenian EyeCare Project presents the CEPCB establishment history.She states that several countries, including the USA, have passed through that boom, which Armenia experienced in late 2000s. 

The Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP) is a charitable foundation established in 1992 in the USA by American-Armenian ophthalmologist Dr. Roger Ohanesian. In 2010, in cooperation with the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, they started the National Screening and Treatment Program for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). “We started to screen babies and identify those who are in the risk group forexperiencing eye problems. We were screening about 1,000 babies a year and were providing laser treatment to those who needed it. But for surgeries, they had to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia,” said Nune Yeghiazaryan.

Armenia’s Ministry of Health of the RA instructed the AECP that Armenian babies should be treated in Armenia. In 2014, theAECP, in cooperation with USAID, established the Center of Excellence for the Prevention of Childhood Blindness. Theaim was to develop professional ophthalmology capacities to eliminate preventable blindness among children in Armenia and the region.

In 2014 Dr. Chien Wong from London (Moorfields Eye Hospital, Royal Free London Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children) visited Armenia with a medical mission and enthusiastically agreed to perform those surgeries and to train Armenian doctors.

This year, on December 19-21, Dr. Chien Wong performed surgeries in the CEPCB. This was his ninth visit during the past two years.

“I continue sharing my experience with the CEPCB medical staff to help them treat children with unusual eye conditions. Two and a half years ago, Dr. Roger Ohanesian (the Founder and President of the Armenian EyeCare Project - S.P.) enticed me to Armenia to provide eye care to premature infantswith ROP. Another reason for my visit was my cooperation with Dr. Thomas Lee from the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The visit, intended as a one-time activity,has become the ninth. Our aim was to provide children with the whole cycle of eyecare services from screening to surgeries. The CEPCB is a unique facility. Until recently, babies of Armenia and neighboring countries had no possibility to get treatment in Armenia, and there were children who went blind due to the disease. The main aim of my visits is to train local doctors and to lead them to a professional level where there is no more need of my visit. Today we are very close to it.

The Armenian doctors’ team has become very professional. One of our most recent cases is yesterday’s patient, a six-year-old girl, who has come to Armenia from a neighboring country. Her parents were very disheartenedsince they knew nothing about her condition and nothing about the treatment possibilities. Here, not only did they receive proper treatment, but also information about her eye problems and what to expect”.

Dr. Wong, what keeps you coming back to Armenia?

Kebab, Armenian coffee and cognac.

And, on a more serious note?

The warmth of Armenian people and their readiness to obtain new knowledge. This helps me to continue my job in Armenia. The team here is very open to get new information and is working not only to treat the baby, but also to cooperate with families in the decision-making process. I give importance to it also. We have a fantastic team in Armenia. Technical skills are very important, and this team has it, but no less important is the ability to make correct decisions on time.”

But you still monitor the work of staff.

Because I can’t go without kebab and coffee.

Is the number of children with ROP high in Armenia?

The program of the initial screening of premature babies in Armenia started in 2010. Since then more than 12,000 screenings have been held. About 5% of those babies underwent laser treatment to prevent dangerous developments. About 5% of those babies have a risk of blindness. This seems to be a small number, but it’s not relative to 10,000. The hospital in London where I work treats children with ROP from all overGreat Britain. I am able to transfer that comprehensive expertise to my colleagues in Armenia, and they successfully garner knowledge from that expertise.  ROP surgery is ranked as one of the most complicated of eye surgeries. It’s like the iceberg of surgeries, even though other procedures have their unique problems.”

In 2016, there were no cases of retinal detachment in Armenia that would need a complicated surgery. This is a desirable result even for many developed countries in the world. It’s important to organize children’s treatment correctly in order not to need surgeries but to treat them in early stages with lasers.

2010-2016: Findings of the ROP National Program
Create bar charts

What is your treatment’ssuccess rate?

The treatment has a positive outcome for 70% of patients. In London and in Armenia we use an innovative method of treatment that doesn’t damage the intraocular lens during the surgery”.

What worries eye doctors more, congenital or acquired blindness? What are the trends today?

I think that blindness is mostly acquired. It depends on what age group you look at. The first group consists of premature babies and children up to 8 years old, when the connections between eye and brain are forming. This is the time when a child, via the eyes, learns and understands the surrounding world. If a child goes blind, they remain blind for their entire life. However, a child that goes blind at a very young age learns more, than a person who goes blind at the age of fifty, by adapting to that condition.

Comments (1)

Felix Gregorian
Ապրեք Աստւած բերի ձեզ մեծ յաջողութիւններ, Ֆելիքս և Դոկտ Քանդիս Գրիգորեան

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